Current local events — convocation

As the annual Convocation of Priests approaches, a theme of which is the priest shortage, there have been “consultative” meetings where doctrine from on high is presented to the priests. For reasons mentioned below I have not gone to any of these meetings myself. What I hear from others who have attended is pretty much the same — vague generalities, statistics, double down on maintaining the current clerical structure and not using available “non-clerical” folks to be more involved in parish leadership, no mention of the Eucharist and its importance to everything we do and are, the charade of pretending to consult with the priests.

IMHO, as I talk with other priests, there seems to be interest in having some sort of an off-line get together at the convocation to find out if any others share our views or similar ones. However, it also seems that no one is interested in exercising any leadership in making this happen. So, in all probability, nothing will be done about it.

I include myself in not being interested in exerting any leadership in this area. I don’t have a dog in this fight. I am on the sidelines in all this, and that is fine by me. The way I see it, nothing that happens will affect me, since I will just keep on doing what I have been doing — responding to any pastoral request for help to maintain the parish and area schedules. I consider helping out in this way to be a privilege and an honor which I take very seriously, as do the other retired priests.

Also, I am used to meetings/gatherings where something is actually accomplished, consultation is real not feigned, real prep work is done through ongoing specific consultations with all concerned, with all the appropriate staff sections having input in their lanes or areas of responsibility. Engendering this atmosphere is a function of leadership. There are constant sand table and tabletop exercises to develop planning. When the CG gives the order everything has been thought out, and everyone knows their responsibility and role in the operation, and everybody feels necessary and important for the success of the mission. Obviously this is not happening here, and I get a strong sense that nobody really wants it to. We are just used to being fed pap and pious bromides about praying for more (male celibate) vocations, and are content to let it happen. “Please, sir, may I have some more?” I am not sure I want to be a part of this.

Some other dioceses have become very creative in the staffing of their parishes, using deacons and lay folks in responsible positions. This might be an area where the concept of best practices is worth being explored. While not much can be decided on a local level, we already have enough vocations, but they are not celibate males.There are a good number of our brother priests who have felt also the call to marriage and family. They are still priests, so why can we not make use of their gifts and talents as pastors? Then there are our sisters who have felt the call to priesthood. Some of them, at great personal cost, have acted on their call and have been ordained. They are doing a marvelous job as pastors and bishops in their own communities. This is a reality that cannot be ignored, and must be acknowledged without judgement and name-calling.

As I watch things unfolding and observe when I am helping out in parishes, it is clear that priests are wearing out, folks are walking away, some parishes are withering, others are dynamic. Some places can combine masses, while others, due to space limitations, cannot. We need to communicate laterally among ourselves, since it is obvious, at least to me, that vertical communication, as it is, does nothing but hand down insensitive vacuities: we downtown understand the situation and here is what you are going to do about it. The system does not understand the problem, and the primary goal of a system is to protect itself and its prerogatives. Stovepiping, especially in our current situation, is a fatal flaw. There has to be communication on the ground, and we priests, with our folks – those who still take part in parish life, as well as who used to take part in parish life, are the folks on the ground. There is a wealth of wisdom, experience, and competence in the pews and parish staffs, and we ignore it at our own peril. We cannot say the Holy Spirit is not involved here.

I believe Jesus meant it when he said “I am with you always”, and, “I will send the Holy Spirit to teach you to observe everything I have commanded you”. My question is what does it mean for me, for us, to be a disciple of Jesus in our current circumstances. I don’t think we can afford go take any of this lightly.

“Ride to the sound of the guns!”

Just sayin . . .

One thought on “Current local events — convocation

  1. Bob Labbe

    Jim,
    Thank you for sharing your ideas.
    I have several reactions. Let me start with one point of disagreement. I believe we all “have a dog in this fight”. I admit that I have not been very involved in the Church for many years due primarily to having been told when I married that I was to go away, far far away, and not to be involved. Being young and naive, I followed that admonition even as my two boys attended Catholic elementary and high schools. But I have come to realize that all of us Catholics must be involved if our Church is to move forward in spending the gospel and the story of Jesus’ love for us all, without exception. Our Church is stagnant. We are losing people not because they have lost faith but because our leaders have not and are not leading. Our bishops are not pastoral. they do not teach. They control. Our bishops (particularly +RL) are running businesses. They are not pastoral leaders. We need priests such as yourself to deliver our message to the bishops during such gatherings as the Convocation.

    The convocation needs to focus on the Eucharist not the question of a priest shortage. The question should not be “How can we stretch our priestly resources? Not “How can we find more priests?” But rather, “How can we ensure that all people have regular access to the Eucharist?” the Eucharist is at the heart of our faith. It is the Eucharist which feeds us. It is for and by the Eucharist that we live. The Eucharist must be our focus, not some managerial question of resources. As you so rightly said, we have enough priests (Married, male and female) and we can certainly ordain others. The “priest shortage” is a red herring which prevents us from addressing the key issues of the world…Eucharist, poverty, injustice, capital punishment, etc.

    We need pastoral leaders who help lay persons grow in their faith. I do not want to disparage anyone, certainly not my brother priests who have IMHO been abandoned by their bishops. But we have not educated, not led our people as we have needed to, largely because the “business” of being a priest takes over and smothers the pastoral aspects of priesthood. If in fact we have educated our people, how is it that so many simply follow in lock-step whatever the good bishop/priest says without taking time to question? I believe we are stronger when we question leadership, when we ask questions and form our consciences. I ask myself, how the heck can a man who closed more than 50 churches thereby abandoning thousands of families, a man who disregarded the recommendations of his own committees, a man who wrote off the inner city, how can such a man then raise $150 million? Is it because people do not understand what is happening? Or is it that they have been taught only to walk in lock-step.
    Jim, Thank you for sharing such personal and important thoughts. And thank you for allowing me to share mine.
    Bob Labbe

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